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One of the steps in this pretzel recipe is:

Once the dough has risen, place the trays next to a cold window with some wind blowing. A fan can be used if there is no breeze. This develops a skin on the pretzels which gives that special chewy texture.

What does the breeze do to contribute?

Note: This is done before the boiling step.

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    If it's not a humid environment, it would dry out the surface. Dunno if that's what causes chewiness, though.
    – Joe
    Apr 25 '17 at 23:09
  • @Joe is right, it will definitely dry out the surface of the dough. It may pull some moisture from the inside of the dough, in addition to drying the skin - the result may well end up chewier for being worked while softer and let dry a bit, compared to using less water to begin with. The fan or breeze will let more air volume pull moisture from the dough - even more so since cool air tends not to be humid enough to prevent drying.
    – Megha
    Apr 26 '17 at 0:15
  • @Megha Would briefly boiling the dough in water after that counteract the whole point?
    – Fodder
    Apr 26 '17 at 3:19
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    @Fodder - no, not at all. The dough will still have less moisture than a wetter dough after both are boiled. Also, the skin on the dough is already formed, which would also help limit water absorption during the boiling. Time and temperature also make a difference - a soak would soften the skin back up, but a brief dip in boiling water will not have time to soften the skin before the heat sets it. Think of how starch lumps up in hot water but dissolves in cold, in this case you would be taking that dry skin on the dough and heat-setting the starches in it faster than it can re-hydrate.
    – Megha
    Apr 26 '17 at 3:57
  • @Megha Makes sense to me. If you or Joe want to add that as an answer, I'm happy to accept.
    – Fodder
    Apr 26 '17 at 4:13
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My best guess is that it will dry out the surface of the dough. It may also pull some moisture from the inside of the dough, in addition to drying out the skin. A fan or breeze will let the air pull moisture from the dough - the exposure to a larger volume of air tends to pull moisture off, one reason it feels cooling. The effect should be greater as the recipe specifies cool air, which tends not to hold enough moisture or humidity to interfere with this drying.

It makes sense that a dough with a dryer skin may be easier to handle during the boiling step, being sturdier and less likely to stretch or deform while being handled. And I'm not sure, but I think a softer dough might be easier to work or shape, or the uneven drying to have other textural effects, which might be the reason drying the dough out a bit is better than simply using less water to begin with.

The dough will be boiled after this step, but while that will add moisture to the dough, the effects should persist. A dough that was dried before boiling will still have less moisture than a dough that was not, after both are boiled - boiling can only add so much moisture in such a brief time. Also, a dried skin on the dough would also help limit water absorption during the boiling, since the water has to work through the skin to reach the interior.

Time and temperature also make a difference - a soak would certainly soften the skin back up, but the recipe's brief dip in boiling water will not have time to soften the skin before the heat starts setting it. It would be similar to how starch forms sturdy, chewy lumps if dumped into hot water, but would dissolve in cold and when heated thicken the liquid smoothly instead of forming clumps. In this case, I'd guess the boiling would heat-set the starches of the dried skin faster than it can re-hydrate.

Another possible analogy that might help would be baking bread - the dough can easily form a skin when baking that changes the texture (by interfering with oven spring) which does not let it rise as easily, making a denser and chewier loaf. Since that texture is usually undesirable in bread, it is prevented by keeping the surface of the dough moist and pliable with water or oil, and scoring the bread to give room for expansion.

It is additionally possible that heat-setting the dough, by boiling, also helps to set the shape and support a sturdy skin on the dough in order to interfere with any oven spring the pretzel dough might undergo, again giving a denser and chewier texture. If so, both effects may stack for a more pronounced result.

Of course, much of this is speculation. The exposure to air will dry out the edges and form a skin, but it is possible that there are some additional benefits (controlling temperature or affecting starch structure, perhaps) that come from adding this step to the recipe that I am unaware of.

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It would indeed dry the outer layers out. Honestly, I'm surprised that it would make a big difference, because it would be such a thin crust (unless you leave it for a long time). I've never done this for a pretzel, nor seen it in a recipe. I would love to hear the results of an experiment, though, if you do half "under fan" and half "normal".

That said, I would believe that it makes the pretzels easier to handle, and more likely to maintain their shape on the way to the boiling water. It may also help the pretzels maintain their geometric stability in the first instants of boiling--by creating a dehydrated, tight layer on the outside, it gives less the pretzel less room to stretch and deform.

If you really do dry it out long enough for the decreased hydration to be more than a millimeter or so, then you'll end up with a hydration gradient across your pretzel. In that case, the outer layer should have a tighter crumb than the interior--like the difference between sandwich bread and ciabatta, though less extreme.

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